The third seat stays on Sydney’s trains following bungled trial

No future for the bench: the government has dropped plans to change the seating on trains following a bungled trial Photo: Sydney Trains Two seaters are not the future on Sydney’s double decker trains. Photo: Sydney Trains

The traditional three-person seats will continue to be a fixture in Sydney’s double-decker trains, following the abject failure of a trial to gauge whether there was any benefit in getting rid of them.

Gladys Berejiklian announced the trial removal of the three-person seat in mid-2013 on some Tangara trains, replaced with two seats or a bench.

“The middle seat of the three person seat is often left empty so we want to see if this is a better use of that space,” the former transport minister said at the time.

Removing that seat, she said, could fit another 80 people into two carriages. That would be a boost of about 15 per cent, and potentially make it easier for people to get on and off the train.

A survey of train passengers at the time suggested little mood for changing the seating arrangements – people preferred what they knew.

But the government then contracted with engineering consortium UGL-Unipart to analyse two aspects of the $900,000 trial: how many passengers would fit into the redesigned train carriages, and would the new seats make it easier to board?

UGL-Unipart and their subcontractor ADT installed cameras in the trains. But when they handed their results to Sydney Trains, there was little that could be used.

A summary of the trial, provided this year to Fairfax Media following a drawn-out freedom of information request, catalogued multiple failures.

One indication that something was wrong was that the trial occasionally reported boarding information for doors on both sides of the train – even though only one set of doors was opening.

There was also “substantial amounts of duplicated data,” a summary document said.

And when the information was not duplicated, that was sometimes because staff counted different things: “i.e. one reviewer had counted throughout the whole carriage and another reviewer had only counted the half of the carriage in which the camera was situated.”

Sydney Trains said it could not use the information. “It was not generally possible to rely upon the data which had been supplied because the methodology use to collect it … had no transparency and was inconsistent.”

Nevertheless in a response for this story, Sydney Trains appeared to indicate that the experiment with new seating plans would not be repeated.

“The Tangara seating trial was carried out three years ago and it’s clear that alternative seating configurations would have limited benefits to double-deck train services,” a spokesman said.

“Although these results give us significant evidence to inform future fleet design, because of the limited benefits and expense there are no plans to modify the seating configuration of our existing fleet.”

For its part, UGL-Unipart said that “issues with the way in which the trials were conducted were addressed with Sydney Trains at the time the report was submitted.”

And the consortium pointed to a $131 million contract it won this year to upgrade the Tangara fleet of trains.

The new trains to run on the $8.3 billion Sydney Metro North West and its estimated $10 billion extension to Bankstown will have vastly fewer seats than Sydney’s current trains.

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